I really enjoyed this essay and also Pastor Doug Wilson’s excellent point about postmillennialism in response.
But in all this talk about “logic,” I want to point out that I think logic is being ignored.
In John MacArthur’s Study Bible, commenting on 1 John 2:2 he says, “Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.”
But that means no unbeliever who later is converted was ever under God’s wrath, a direct contradiction of Ephesians 2 and, for instance, the rest of the Bible. Unbelievers are not justified because they are elect and Christ died for them. They are justified because and when they are given faith in Christ–which is only because of God’s mercy and because Christ died for them.
This truth is safeguarded in the Westminster Confession, though I confess I was blind to the document thanks to the sloganeering of neo- (pseudo- sub- ?) calvinists. J. I. Packer had to wake me from my dogmatic slumbers. (There is now an excellent resource on the web that documents the Reformed heritage on this point.)
Also, Randy is acting like there are only two options: Christ died for the elect or Christ died for the whole world. Two points to make here:
First, what about statements that Christ died for the visible church? (Acts 20.28; I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that Paul is not demanding the watching of an invisible church). In that case, Randy needs to rethink his options:
Furthermore, 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of false teachers who bring swift destruction on themselves, and describes them as “denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” Either Christ died for all men, including those who aren’t elect, or the false teachers who bring destruction on themselves are elect. I just don’t know how else to interpret this passage.
Does “elect” only and everywhere in Scripture denote election to eternal life? There are simply more options than “died for the whole world,” and “died for the elect.” For example, not everyone hears the gospel. Those that do hear it have been given a gift from God and due to the death of Christ. When the non-elect (not chosen for eternal life) reject the Gospel they will be held accountable for rejecting a gift that cost God his Son to give them.
This brings me to my second point: How Christ died for someone or group is not mutually exclusive to other statements using the same language of “for.” First Timothy 4.10 should put this beyond doubt: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” This is especially compelling since, in the same letter, Paul wrote:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
So Christ died for all but especially for believers. This is not a denial of the doctrine of limited atonement, but a glorious affirmation of it.
And frankly, the problems we have in seeing this are anything but logical. I don’t think they were ever driven by logic. I think the need to defend the truth of Scripture eventually degenerated into a desire to believe we are special because we obsess over “the five points” all the time, make it the key to all reading of Scripture, and an essential element in even professing the Gospel (in some extreme cases). Obviously, this made us develop a new language at variance with the language of the Apostles and Jesus and the prophets.
So the Bible suddenly sprouts up “problem passages” from the perspective of our new mentality, that we claimed as our piety. They were not “problem passages” because false teachers twist them–we will always have to deal with those. Now they had become “problem passages” because we would never permit ourselves to write or speak that way. We know better than God how to allow our congregations to talk and write. And our job as theologians and pastors became to protect our congregations from the Bible and teach them to focus on the “safe” passages.
And we actually imagine that this is faithfulness to Christ on our part.